Here’s what focus groups want ARPA funds spent on by Columbia

Columbia City Council is nearing a point where it will decide funding priorities for the second half of the approximately $25 million the city has received in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

This week marked an update to the ARPA survey process following focus group meetings in August. Kari Utterback, project manager and member of the Jordan Bales project team delivered a report during a council business session on Monday.

The city reached out to a myriad of groups to get feedback on their needs, giving city staff information on how funds should be allocated.

The focus groups included young people, frontline workers such as medical and public safety, people living in unstable housing, Spanish speakers, and mental health care providers, among others. The full list is available in an ARPA community engagement report from the city.

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Mental health, access to services, workforce development, physical health and financial hardship were the main themes emerging from the focus groups, Utterback said.

“We wanted to give here a small definition of access to services. This could have included hours of operation, transport barriers, supply shortages, lack of information about services (including language barriers ) and the lack of assistance even before the pandemic,” she said. .

These themes included overlaps and interconnections, Bales said. This could include cyclical workforce development issues and financial difficulties. An example Bales gave was a child care center that couldn’t hire more staff or increase pay, because then it would have to pass on a rate increase to customers, who also couldn’t pay a higher amount.

It is now up to the board to determine funding priorities based on community contributions for the second half of funding. The board is already receiving proposals based on previously established community violence response and workforce development priorities. This period for submitting proposals ends on Friday.

The main question for Mayor Barbara Buffaloe was whether certain priorities already identified by council should remain for the second half, or whether council could become more specific.

Staff recommended generally staying broader with funding priorities so as not to result in the exclusion of certain groups seeking funding.

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Buffaloe also suggested coordinating and holding joint meetings of the commission and Boone County Council, such as on the county’s upward mobility program.

Staff are willing to pursue certain focus areas over the next half of the allocations. There just needs to be a suitable RFP document for this part of the fund compared to what’s already available for the council’s previous priorities, staff said.

Charles Dunlap covers local government, community stories and other general topics for the Tribune. You can reach him at [email protected] or @CD_CDT on Twitter. Subscribe to support vital local journalism.

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